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Venus rebounds to reclaim her grand acclaim



Published: Sun, July 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Her triumph over Lindsay Davenport was her first major win in two years.

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Everyone had a theory about what was wrong with Venus Williams:

She couldn't handle being surpassed by younger sister Serena.

She wasn't investing enough time in tennis, distracted by other interests, such as her interior design company.

She couldn't overcome a long string of injuries.

She needed someone other than Mom and Dad to coach her.

The shooting death of half-sister Yetunde weighed heavily on her.

As the time since Williams' last Grand Slam title grew to four years, as her losses in majors came earlier and earlier, more and more explanations were offered.

Her confidence and desire were gone, her game had slipped, other women on tour caught up.

And on, and on, and on.

Spectacular turnaround

With one spectacular fortnight, capped by saving a match point en route to a stirring 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 victory over top-ranked Lindsay Davenport in the Wimbledon final Saturday, Williams served notice that she never really went away.

"I always felt like a champion in my heart because every single time I walked out on the court, I always gave my best. Whatever it was at that time, I gave 100 percent," Williams said shortly after accepting her third Wimbledon trophy.

"I feel great to have accomplished this, but I feel like I want to do a lot more."

She certainly appears capable of just that, now that she's healthy and happy, which she let everyone know by jumping over and over and laughing uncontrollably after hugging Davenport at the net.

The wrist, abdominal and shoulder injuries that slowed her in recent times weren't evident while Williams ran corner to corner and smacked powerful and precise shots against Davenport and, two days earlier in the semifinals, against defending champion and No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova.

Previous form

It was nothing that wouldn't have been expected of Williams from 2000 to 2003, when she won her first four major titles and reached five other Grand Slam finals, losing each of those to little sis.

But she arrived at the All England Club having claimed only one tournament title in the preceding 13 months, and that came at a lower-tier event.

Once ranked No. 1, then No. 2 behind her sibling, Williams had tumbled all the way to No. 16.

She lost in the second round at Wimbledon last year, and barely mustered a fight in a 6-1 third-set defeat against 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva in the third round at the French Open in May.

She was seeded 14th at Wimbledon, and no one slotted that low had won the championship.

"She wasn't in my pick of favorites," two-time U.S. Open champion Tracy Austin said after watching the 2-hour, 45-minute women's final, the longest on record at Wimbledon.

"I didn't have Venus in any tier, and I don't think anyone did."

Plenty of fight

But that's because no one could crawl inside Williams' head and understand that whatever the reasons for recent lack of good results, she still had plenty of fight.

That was apparent in the way she was "scratching and clawing," as Austin put it, while trailing through nearly all of the final.

When Davenport served for the title at 6-5 in the second set, Williams broke her at love.

No shot was gutsier than the backhand winner Williams hit when serving while trailing 4-5, 30-40 in the third set; no woman had saved match point in the Wimbledon final and gone on to win since 1935.

"I was just thinking, 'I've got to stay tougher. I've got to stay tougher than whoever's across the net,' " Williams said.

Her victory Saturday means six women have split the past six Grand Slam titles, the first time that's happened since the late 1970s.

Now, if Serena Williams -- who lost in the third round to 85th-ranked Jill Craybas, the woman Venus beat in the fourth round -- gets her left ankle healthy and follows through on her vow to practice more, the U.S. Open should be very interesting.

With the Williams sisters, Davenport, Sharapova, reigning French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, reigning U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, four-time major runner-up Kim Clijsters, 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, and former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo in the mix, the top of women's tennis might just be the deepest and strongest it's ever been.




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